The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Waste on a Plane

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


According to a September 28, 2007 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, federal employees have been flying first and business classes more than they should.  The GAO reviewed credit card records for air travel purchases of federal employees between 2005 and 2006 and discovered that agencies spent $230 million on 53,000 premium-class tickets.  In more than two-thirds of the cases, the high-cost airfare was not sanctioned or justifiable, costing taxpayers $146 million annually.

Federal procedures allow for premium-class travel when necessary for security purposes, when the traveler has a doctor-certified physical or medical disability, when a coach seat is not available, or when the flight time is 14 hours or more with no stops along the route.  In many of the cases, federal employees mischaracterized their trips as “mission critical” in order to circumvent the rules and buy a better seat.

The GAO reported that business class tickets cost five times the price of coach seats, a fact that did not seem to deter some government officials from repeatedly capitalizing on lax and inconsistent oversight among federal agencies.

The report is strewn with other examples of bureaucratic joy-riding at taxpayers’ expense.  A Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) official flew premium class to Europe 10 times during the one-year period under review, at a total cost to taxpayers of $62,000, when coach class would have run about $9,000.  FAS is part of the Department of Agriculture, which topped the list of improper and abusive premium travel practices.  The Department of Defense and the State Department came in second and third.

Following the release of the GAO report, Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) successfully added an amendment to the fiscal 2008 Commerce, Justice, and State Appropriations Act, which bars the practice of using taxpayer funds for premium travel except under existing law.  Taxpayers fly first class with their own money; federal employees should not be allowed to break the rules to do so as well, also at the taxpayers’ expense.  In other words, fly by the rules or be grounded.

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